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Product innovation provides a significant life force and has become a strategic priority for most companies and organizations.

An IBM poll of fifteen hundred CEOs identified creativity as the number one “leadership competency” of the future. A new and remarkable discovery is that the ability to facilitate innovation and innovative ideas is not merely a function of the mind, but it is also a function of behaviors.

Product Innovation, a Mindset that Generates Profit

Facilitate innovationThe Harvard Business Press book “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” provides compelling ways to stir product innovation. The work of authors Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen emerged from an eight-year collaborative study to uncover the origins of innovation. They were less concerned with the companies’ strategies and focused on understanding the people responsible for turning creativity into value propositions.

Five skills surfaced from their investigation including one cognitive (ie, genetic) talent and four acquired behaviors. The cognitive skill is called “associational thinking” or the ability to make connections across seemingly unrelated fields, problems, or ideas. The other four skills are learned (ie, behavioral) and include:

Facilitate Innovation for Product or Process Innovation

To our regular readers, perhaps not surprisingly, the required behaviors are virtually identical to the core skills of our professionally trained MG RUSH facilitators. The researchers discovered that innovators are much more likely to question, observe, network, and experiment than typical executives. They also discovered that innovative companies are always (ALWAYS) led by innovative leaders.

 “ . . . Innovative people systematically engage in questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting behaviors to spark new ideas.  Similarly, innovative organizations systematically develop processes that encourage questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting by new employees.”

How to Facilitate Innovation

In their discussion of innovative failures, the authors discovered that people did not ask all the right questions . . . thus they emphasize the value of the discovery skill. In other words, we must be willing to challenge your people to think clearly. According to the authors, the behavioral focus found in our facilitative leadership training could pay for the training in a matter of weeks.

Their book also provides details on how to calculate an innovation premium for companies; ie, the proportion of a company’s market value that cannot be accounted for from cash flows of current products or markets. Investors take note. This factor alone could pay for the time you took to read this blog, many times over. The innovation advantage found in our curriculum can be converted into a premium for your organizational value by building the code (ie, DNA) for innovation directly into your people, methods, and guiding philosophies—beginning with a facilitative and collaborative culture.

Encouraging and developing ideas is the easiest of the three activities required to operate the tool called “Brainstorming.” The other two activities include analysis and convergence (or, decision). Whether you use an easel or a spreadsheet, Post-it® notes or illustrated drawings, the first principle of brainstorming, as intended by Alex Osborne, is to encourage capturing lots of ideas without constraint or judgment. Most novice facilitators become the first person in the meeting to violate this principle by asking for a definition or further explanation, such as “Tell us more about _____.” Facilitate innovation by . . .

Regardless of HOW you gather ideas, embrace the first principle we call “Ideation.” First, to facilitate innovation, begin by embracing a discrete set of ground rules during the ideation activity.

Ideation Ground Rules

  • No discussion
    Get Out of the Box Facilitate Ideation

    Facilitate Innovation: Get Out of the Box

  • Fast pacing, high-energy
  • All ideas allowed
  • Be creative—experiment
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Suspend judgment, evaluation, and criticism
  • Passion is good
  • Accept the views of others
  • Stay focused on the topic
  • Everyone participates
  • No word-smithing
  • When in doubt, leave it in
  • The ideation step is informal
  • 5-Minute Limit Rule (ie, ELMO doll — Enough, Let’s Move On)

What to Expect When You Facilitate Innovation

In our experience, having used all of these rules at one time or another, the first four (shown in bold font) consistently add value. For example, a few of the ideation rules suggest that someone has made a remark (eg, No word-smithing). If the facilitator carefully polices the very first ground-rule (ie, No discussion), then it obviates the need for some of the other ground rules. When you facilitate ideation, always stress the first two especially.

The ELMO rule is also not necessary if the activity is closely policed. How long can a group maintain “high-energy”? If the group is working with high-energy at the five-minute mark, do you really want to shut them down? It is likely that energy will begin to die down in the next few minutes anyway, so if closely monitored, the formal rule is not necessary. Typically the facilitator should expect to wind down the ideation activity within six to eight minutes anyway. Larger groups may keep up high-energy for ten to twelve minutes, but it is most unlikely that any group will maintain true “high-energy” for fifteen to twenty minutes when you facilitate ideation. Of course, you can always change their perspectives.

Once the ideation activity is complete, the real work begins. What are you going to do with the list? The first challenge is normally about definition and what something specifically means. Then comes the hard part, analysis. What are you going to do with that list?


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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